Nov 2010 Journal

Letters to the Editor


Sir - Having been away for much of the summer, I have only just caught up with your July edition. I would like to add a comment on Anthony Grenville’s excellent article ‘Vote, vote, vote for Clement Attlee?’
I didn’t vote for him because, like other refugees, I didn’t have the vote in 1945. But whilst I had the highest regard for Winston Churchill as an indispensable war leader, Attlee certainly would have had my vote. I was an officer in the Worcester Regiment in Germany at the time and one of my more challenging duties was to give ABCA (Army Bureau of Current Affairs) talks to the soldiers under my command. In discussing the political situation and the forthcoming election, it became clear that many of the conscripts had never even entertained the idea of voting anything other than Conservative as their working class parents had traditionally done. Like very many other non-professional officers, I explained to them that they had another option, which at that time seemed to me to be far preferable for the rebuilding of war-torn Britain. It was the vote of the armed forces that swung the election to the Labour Party and so I claim to have played a bit part in what transpired in 1945.
Attlee was indeed a self-effacing man who served under Churchill with total loyalty, whatever Churchill may have thought of him. It was thanks to his managerial skills and steely resolve that he inaugurated the welfare state, on which life in Britain is still largely based. I well remember listening to his election speech in the old Bull Ring in Birmingham in the 1950 general election: it was heart-warming to see the thousand-odd men and women, mainly men in flat caps, warmly applauding the man who had transformed their lives.
Whilst I have your ear, may I take the opportunity of thanking Gloria Tessler for the many telling contributions she has made over the years in her Art Notes - always lucidly written and enticing the reader to visit this or that exhibition which might otherwise have remained obscure. She is a very great asset to the Journal and long may she continue.

Professor Leslie Baruch Brent, London N19


Sir - I am offended by Annette Saville’s letter (September) contrasting the bravery and determination of the early Zionist pioneers in Palestine with what she calls the ‘ghetto mentality’.

The Jews of the diaspora formed well organised communities which can in no way be described as cowardly or helpless. In all these communities there were strong political parties and religious, social, cultural and self-help organisations which fought for the rights of Jews in often very anti-Semitic environments.

These organisations continued clandestinely in the ghettoes under the murderous German occupation. The Jews, thrown into ghettos, concentration camps and even extermination camps, showed heroic passive as well as, when possible, armed resistance against impossible odds. There were organised revolts in almost all the ghettos and camps. All this is well documented. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising lasted five weeks. The Jewish resistance fought the then victorious German army trying to defend the Jewish population and was annihilated in the end. I owe my life to the organised Jewish resistance fighters, first in the Warsaw Ghetto and later ‘on the Aryan side’, and have known many Jewish men and women who sacrificed their lives for others. I am proud of the ‘ghetto mentality’.


Wlodka Blit-Robertson, London SE26


Sir - So Peter Phillips (October) agrees that ‘If you were Jewish and in Nazi-occupied territory on Kristallnacht you are a genuine “Holocaust survivor”.’ What am I and the likes of me to make of that definition? I am Jewish. I can prove that with a certificate giving details about my brith mila, signed by an ‘Orthodox’ mohel. At the time of Kristallnacht, I hadn’t yet been born. At birth, I was Austrian, but did not live in Nazi-occupied Austria. Having been born, I had to wait one month for the Nazi invasion to occur. As a result, I came to live in a Nazi-occupied territory. Am I therefore not a genuine ‘Holocaust survivor’? I and the likes of me are used to being overlooked. We don’t like it very much.


Henri Obstfeld, Stanmore, Middx


Sir - Dorothea Shefer-Vanson, in her October Letter from Israel, refers in a throw-away manner to Ludwig Koch. Readers of the AJR Journal have reason to be interested in him.

Born in 1881 in Frankfurt-am-Main, Ludwig Koch was musical enough to sing and play the violin professionally. He was fluent in French and consequently during the First World War was in German military intelligence, making a number of investigative trips behind the French lines.

He became interested in recording the sounds of birds and animals and became a pioneer in this art, having, as Ms Shefer-Vanson writes, to carry the very heavy equipment of that pre-transistor age around the countryside. He also wrote books on nature and in the mid-1930s the foreword of one of his books was written by Hermann Goering, who signed himself ‘Reichsoberförster’ in one of his ‘Ich bestimme, wer hier Jude ist’ phases.

Ludwig Koch fled Germany in 1936 and after the start of the war was briefly interned on the Isle of Man.

He was very popular with listeners to the BBC, both for his fascinating recordings and his heavy accent, which his friends suspected was to a certain extent nurtured, since it made him so distinctive. (Koch’s style and accent are gently but brilliantly mocked by Peter Sellers on his 1958 record ‘The Best of Sellers’ in the last item on it, ‘Suddenly It’s Folk Song’.)

Koch was invited at least once by the Royal Family to play some of his recordings to them privately and he was awarded an MBE. He died in 1974. One feels privileged to have known him.

Ernest H. Simon, Merstham, Surrey


Sir – Victor Ross’s article ‘The pioneering spirit’ (October) reminded me that my late father, Frederick Masserick, was also in the Pioneer Corps. He spoke of his time digging trenches around Cheltenham, which had been identified as a possible reserve seat of government in the event of an invasion. My father’s job was to fill a wheelbarrow and Arthur Koestler’s job was to wheel it away. Koestler would protest that the barrow was too full. My father’s response was that with half-full barrows the war would never be won! So Koestler’s reputation as a man in search of a cushy billet appears justified! My father was eventually transferred to the airborne divisions gliding in to the ‘Bridge too far’ foul-up in Holland.

Francis Masserick, Isle of Man


Sir – I read Margarete Stern’s article (October) with great interest. I am Professor Oscar Fehr’s daughter and would like to make two corrections. My father did unpaid, voluntary work in Moorfields Eye Hospital, taking some clinics. He did get paid by his patients in Harley Street, where, however, he treated poor people, mostly refugees, free.
Before he could practise in this country he had to become a medical student (at Edinburgh University), where he passed after three years’ study aged 72. I sent his sketches and account of his internment to the Manx Museum on the Isle of Man at their request. After the war, a road in Braunschweig, his birthplace, was named Oscar Fehr Weg.

Inge Samson (née Fehr), Bishop’s Stortford, Herts


Sir – Once again we all enjoyed a wonderful concert and delicious Tea on the occasion of the AJR annual event. I went with my younger family members who also enjoyed this special occasion. The choice of songs from various operettas was good and the singers performed excellently.
Thank you AJR for all your good work throughout the year looking after the ex-refugee community, enhancing our lives in our old age. Thank you also for the good meals and entertainment at the AJR Centre, which I much appreciate. The staff are always friendly. Also special thanks to Susie Kaufman.

Josie Dutch, London NW2

Sir – My friend Stanley Birne and I want to place on record how much we enjoyed the annual AJR Party at the Watford Hilton. The refreshments were of a high standard, tea was served promptly and - by no means least - the fruit platter was so artistic it should have been photographed for House and Garden.
Of course, the music was, as always, very nostalgic and it was a joy to see the people around us nodding their heads and tapping their feet in enthusiasm. Our thanks to everyone who helped to make this afternoon such a pleasurable event for everyone.

(Mrs) Meta Roseneil, Buckhurst Hill

Sir – We have just returned from a very entertaining and enjoyable afternoon tea and song at the Watford Hilton together with AJR members.

The only disturbing factor was the mentioned presence of the member of the Austrian embassy (although he was not there), which we deem to have been very unnecessary, in view of the part that country played in supporting the Holocaust.

George and Helga Lazarus, London N3


Sir – To accompany Francis Steiner’s tale in your August issue (‘Matura 70 years on’), I have a somewhat similar story to tell concerning my home town, Stuttgart. I have known my best friend there since our days at primary school, before 1930, and I attended with him and other school friends the Reformrealgymnasium from 1933 to 1936, when I was sent to school in England. My German non-Jewish friends, none of them Nazis, have been meeting ever since then, except for the war years, at their monthly Stammtisch and in recent times I have joined them once a year, and still do, although our numbers are now diminishing. Stuttgart is not what it was, but our meetings, marked by reminiscences of the ‘not-so-good’ old days, are always moving occasions.

Professor Ernst Sondheimer, London N6


Sir – In ‘Letters to the Editor’ (September), Lionel Blumenthal mentions the historian Lewis Namier. He was my father’s first cousin. We knew him as ‘Ulu’ – that’s what our family called him.

(Mrs) Anne Selinger, Reading


Sir - I was interested in David Harris’s article on visiting Seelow in your April issue, which I recently acquired. I visit a gymnasium there roughly once a year to speak on Judaism. Seelow is also the site of one of the last major battles of the war and part-way down the hill into the ‘Oderbruch’ flat valley are a memorial and museum as well as mass graves - thousands of Germans and Russians fell in this Red Army attempt to break through the last natural barrier before Berlin.

How ironic that Hitler’s plan to invade Britain was Operation ‘Seelöwe’ - Sealion - and that the last campaign which led to the defeat of the Third Reich was at Seelow. I know the two words are not connected but they sound so similar.


Rabbi Dr Walter Rothschild, Berlin


Sir - Evidently, an Oxford degree and seichel do not necessarily go together.
Seichel is not something one can acquire through study: you are either born with it or not. The exact definition of the Yiddish term is difficult to define. It can be loosely translated as a mixture of tact, sound judgment, shtetl wisdom and a lot more. Anyone lacking in seichel has a tendency to put his foot where his mouth is! For instance, for one Jew to tell another to go to Israel demonstrates a distinct lack of seichel, especially if he is himself a refugee from Austria.

To back up his dislike of the religious, Peter Philips (October) quotes Howard Jacobson but fails to see his own mirror-image in Finkler, the ashamed Jew who is the character Jacobson created in his novel The Finkler Question. Like Mr Philips, Finkler is anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, abhors religious Jews and feels comfortable in his outrage. His article is all polemics and devoid of facts. For instance, he queries the difference between Sharia and the laws governing Israel. Some of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s gaffes are indeed objectionable but rabbis don’t promulgate laws in modern-day Israel and a curse or two never broke anyone’s bones. Only marriage and divorce are the domain of the Beth Din, which is the legacy of his idol, David Ben-Gurion. The courts are subject to the Israeli judiciary, who are fiercely independent and secular. These very laws are based on British laws which he so admires.

Rubin Katz, London NW11

Sir - Mr Phillips appears to think he is the only one in step. He writes that Herzl, Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir envisaged a secular state, but in 1948 Ben-Gurion agreed that those studying at yeshivot and koleils be deferred or exempted from military service. In England only a judge can rule on crimes or civil disputes so why in Israel should not dayanim, who have studied Jewish law for years, be the only ones to decide on divorce and who is a Jew? If Arabs are members of the Knesset, why should not Israelis who are strictly Orthodox be members of the cabinet?

Mr Phillips appears to have overlooked the fact that strictly Orthodox Jews lived in Jerusalem long before Herzl envisaged a Jewish state. He also overlooks the fact that 3,000 years ago Jewish kings ruled the people. And they were not atheists: the king read from the Torah in the temple on the festival of Succot.

Henry Schragenheim, London N15


Sir - In reply to Peter Fraenkel’s query (October) regarding the origin of the German-Jewish word risches, meaning anti-Semitism, it is simply the Hebrew word rish’ut, meaning wickedness or malice, according to the Ashkenazi pronunciation. It is clearly a word current in Jüdisch-Deutsch, the western dialect of Yiddish that died out at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and was not used in the Eastern dialects. That would explain why the Yiddish speakers he consulted didn’t know the word.

There are several other such words current among Jews of Western Europe that differ from the Eastern usage. For example, a prayer book was called a tefillah rather than a siddur and the loaves eaten on Shabbat were known as baerches or tatche rather than challah, all words that would almost certainly not be recognised by Yiddish speakers.

As regards George Schlesinger’s query regarding the sentence ‘Rachmones (the patient) entered Beth ganev (the … Hospital). Amhoretz (the chief surgeon) ...’:
rachmones is the Hebrew word rachamanut meaning ‘mercy’ and is used to describe a person for whom everything goes wrong, otherwise known as a nebbich. Beth ganev means literally ‘the house of a thief’, though I have no idea to what the allusion is in this case. Amhoretz means ‘an ignorant person’, as Schlesinger wrote, from the Hebrew am ha’arets, meaning literally ‘a peasant’.
Martin D. Stern, Salford, Lancs
Sir - Peter Fraenkel is acquainted with risches, signifying anti-Semitism in Yiddish; he will also remember rosche, a word used to describe an anti-Semite. The two words are closely related, having the same Hebrew root.
In the Passover Haggadah, the second of the four sons is given the moniker ‘a wicked one’, translated from the Hebrew רָשָע (wicked, evil). German, Central and East European Ashkenazis pronounce this as roscho. In Yiddish, it becomes rosche. Similarly, the Hebrew word for wickedness is רִשְעוּת with an Ashkenazi pronunciation of rischüs rendered as risches in Yiddish. Thus, the connection of both words with anti-Semitism is only associative.

Harold Saunders, Manchester


. Sir – The word risches may come from the Hebrew rish’ut, meaning evil, wickedness.

Bernd Koschland, London NW4


 Sir - Peter Fraenkel is acquainted with risches, signifying anti-Semitism in Yiddish; he will also remember rosche, a word used to describe an anti-Semite. The two words are closely related, having the same Hebrew root.
In the Passover Haggadah, the second of the four sons is given the moniker ‘a wicked one’, translated from the Hebrew רָשָע (wicked, evil). German, Central and East European Ashkenazis pronounce this as roscho. In Yiddish, it becomes rosche. Similarly, the Hebrew word for wickedness is רִשְעוּת with an Ashkenazi pronunciation of rischüs rendered as risches in Yiddish. Thus, the connection of both words with anti-Semitism is only associative.

Harold Saunders, Manchester


Sir – Risches is cognate with the Yiddish-Hebrew word rosche, meaning ‘Evil does.’ The ‘evil’ it pillories is anti-Semitism.

S. S. Prawer, Queen’s College, Oxford

Sir - On Google Yiddish-to-English translation, risches means ‘evil’.


Eran Elijahu Ben Joseph


Sir – Peter Fraenkel asks about the origin of the German-Jewish word risches, meaning anti-Semitism. It is the Ashkenazi (Yiddish) pronunciation of the Hebrew word rish'ut, meaning wickedness. The word rasha means a wicked person (see the name of one of the four sons in the Haggadah), which is pronounced rosho in Ashkenazi or Yiddish.

Esther Rosenfeld, Jerusalem


Sir - The German-Jewish word risches is no doubt a corruption of the Hebrew word רשע meaning wickedness, villainy.

Ruth Tuckman, Ashkelon, Israel

Sir – I had assumed that this expression was of Yiddish origin. As a child, I heard it continuously and, here in England, fellow refugees often included it in conversation. Just a week or two ago, to my surprise, a Continental acquaintance in my age group had never heard of the saying. It would be interesting to know how many of our members have similar responses. I was born in Berlin and only remember tsores and risches. Otherwise, German was our language.

Laura Selo, London NW11